Last week I gave up my Mother’s Day to freeze my ass off at the O2 Arena with about 300 other exhibitors and about 10,000 very annoyed exhibition attendees. In the past I have managed to successfully resist the temptation to exhibit at these types of events as I have felt that for my marketing spend, there are better ways to get my brand and my business in front of my target audience. But this year, I was given an offer I couldn’t refuse. The offer of a free stand in exchange for marketing this fantastic multi-speaker event and exhibition to my database of aspiring and successful women in business. How could I resist?
I should have known better, but the temptation of free was too big a draw. What I should have realised was that a free stand does not mean that I am able to exhibit for no cost. In the past, I have watched others spend far more and come out with far less, but I decided that this year I would give it a go. The marketing machine that was Business2012 was phenomenal. They quickly got the likes of Regus, Blackberry, Google on board which gave the exhibition credibility. They had a fantastic team of people leading the project with a lot of experience and expertise in running successful exhibitions. They were everywhere. We agreed to be part of this marketing extravaganza, tweeting, facebooking, emailing our database about this fabulous event with fabulous speakers, though admittedly they suffered from the same malaise that seems to exist at all these types events of not being able to find any leading female speakers.
There has been enough written already on Twitter and other blogs about what happened on the first day but needless to say, it was a little dis-organised on the Sunday. 10:00 am came and went, as did 11:00 am with no sign of any visitors coming through the door. For reasons that I still quite don’t understand, the O2 hadn’t managed to provide the all important internet access to the exhibition. Chaos ensued. The biggest mistake the organisers made was deciding that they needed people to have their own badges – tickets just weren’t good enough. This decision forced people to wait in the freezing cold arena, reportedly 2 degrees Celsius for over 90 minutes before common sense prevailed and they were let in. The visitors took their wrath to Twitter. Once you have an angry mob, it’s very difficult to placate them but as the day unfolded, people’s tempers improved, if not their body heat. More could be said on this and don’t get me started on the cocktail party, but I think I’ll leave it at that.
Thankfully by Monday morning, everything ran more smoothly as the organisers learned from their mistakes. Schedules were printed, people were being directed to the right places and things started to settle down. But it was still cold.
As this was my first exhibition, I put a call out on Twitter asking for advice. I got some great tips back including “have a good show offer”, “take two pairs of shoes”, “have lots of handouts” – which thankfully we did as we managed to distribute over 4000 of our latest magazine. I have to believe that some people somewhere make enough money at exhibitions to make the process and the spend worthwhile. However I don’t think I am one of them.
Learning from the day
Here are some of my learning and tips if you are considering exhibiting at an event like this, and much as I wish I had done these things, I didn’t – so please learn from my mistakes and observations.
1. Have a high ticket item. If you want to make money, make sure that you have a high priced product that you are selling. It’s much easier to make £5000 from selling 5 £1000 products than 500 £10 products
2. Location, Location, Location. Get a corner stand in a high traffic area. Corner stands give you two access points to be noticed and seen. Make sure that you choose your spot wisely and don’t settle.
3. Make sure the exhibition has the right audience. It doesn’t matter how many people are coming through the door if they are not your target market ( and really check this as what seems like the right audience my not always be so)
4. Look professional. In spite of the fact that our stand cost £500 to fit out, I was really pleased with the way it looked and it was definitely attractive. Spotlights really brighten up your space and make it more inviting.
5. Have a good show offer. Have an offer that can’t be refused and creates curiosity
6. Speak loads. Get as many speaking slots as you can and make sure you tie your show offer into that.
7. Make your speaking slot compelling. The first seminar that I saw that literally had people busting out of the doors was “How to start a business with no money”
8. Take the sale on the stand. Once they have left, your opportunity to sell to them decreases by 95%
Unfortunately for me after 3 days exhibiting I captured about 250 email addresses of which realistically only 50 were in my target market. I spent £1330 on furniture and staffing. Gave up my mothers day, which I missed far more than I thought I would and used up about 6 days of my time that I can never get back, when I should have been enjoying the success of the Thrive2012! Conference that we had held the previous week. The one thing that I did enjoy was connecting with all the fantastic exhibitors there. I met some wonderful people like Susan Hallam from Hallam Internet and Pip Thomas from Inbay.
I share this with you not to complain, as I chose to do this knowing that it was an experiment, but as an open and honest account of what it is to exhibit at a large scale event. I’d be really interested in your experiences, particularly if you’ve been able to make exhibitions work for your business.